THE TOWN OF BLAND, REVISTED

By Marc Simmons

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A story I wrote not long ago about the New Mexico ghost town of Bland, located in the Jemez Mountains west of Santa Fe, brought a flurry of letters from interested readers. Some wanted to know more about the place, while others shared new information with me. So let me tell you more about Bland now.

Initially I neglected to say how Bland got its name. It began as a mining camp in 1893, first grandly called Eagle City. Within two years the growing community had been renamed Bland, either for a local family of saloon keepers by that name or for U.S. Sen. Richard P. Bland of Missouri, an advocate of free silver coinage.

Mining of silver and gold was the sole reason for the town's existence in the depths of rugged Bland Canyon. Three kinds of opals were also found in the vicinity, and prospectors also staked opal claims, but they never seemed to pay off.

After my first story was printed, lime specialist Abe Shaffer called my attention to a notice in Santa Fe's daily paper, The New Mexican, on Sept. 21, 1900. The newspaper reported that freighters had arrived in Santa Fe to begin hauling wagonloads of lime to the Albemarle mine near Bland.

The contract with local parties, who were producing lime two miles northeast of the capital, called for delivery of 7,500 tons a month. The paper said the lime would be used at the mine's mill for cyaniding purposes.

Now, I was aware that the cyanide process for recovering gold from its ore had been employed in mills around Bland. But I had no idea what part lime might have played in that operation.

To find out, I phoned Homer Milford of the state Abandoned Mine Land Bureau. He explained that adding lime to the cyanide solution made the recovery process more efficient. It also inhibited the forming of toxic gas.

Later I discovered that the Albemarle mine gave off noxious fumes that could be smelled a mile away. Workers suffered from skin eruptions and lesions of the lungs, so that the mill in the beginning was nicknamed the "Albemarle mankiler."

Readers of my earlier story may recall that I described the stagecoach trip between Santa Fe and Bland made in 1900 by young Lillian Petherbridge. She was going to join her husband, a new manager at one of the mines. As I noted, she had been shocked to see dead birds and animals along the stream as her coach ascended Bland Canyon. The stage driver told her they had been poisoned by waste from one of the mills.

I assumed, of course, that cyanide was the cause, but Homer Milford corrected me. He indicated that in the 1890s a mill was built below Bland that tried to use chlorine rather than cyanide in its processing. The operators were incompetent and bungled the job. The mill closed and was abandoned. Toxic waste escaped and polluted the stream.

Of the letters I received, several of the writers referred to Bland after 1950, by which time it had long since become a ghost town. William Keller, for instance, tells me that back then, he and a friend climbed over a fence blocking the entrance road. "We were met by a caretaker with a shotgun aimed at us. After we convinced him we meant no harm he took us to his cabin and gave us a lecture on Bland's history."

I happened to know that the caretaker mentioned by Keller had been hired by Effie Jenks. She was the head Harvey Girl at historic old La Fonda on the Santa Fe Plaza when she purchased the entire Bland town site in the mid-1940s.

Once when I was dining in La Fonda about 1965, someone pointed out Effie Jenks to me, explaining that she was the owner of Bland. Sometime after that, Jenks retired from waiting tables and moved into her ghost town.

In another letter, Joseph Paull informed me that Effie Jenks had elected herself mayor of Bland. She also published a newsletter for the birds and animals in the canyon. Apparently the ghosts of yesteryear did not bother her. The pleasantly eccentric Jenks died in 1983.

The old road to Bland is practically impassable today, and the site remains private property, closed to visitors. Doubtless that is why most guides to New Mexico ghost towns fail to list it.

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